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Recognize volunteers' skills to enhance program
Special assignments, mentors boost retention
The use of volunteers to enhance hospice services has grown and will continue to grow, according to Greg Schneider, founding director of Hospice Volunteer Association in Occidental, CA.
"Hospices are finding innovative ways for volunteers to participate in hospice care," he says. "Eleventh hour programs and patient contact programs such as Covenant Hospice's Tuck-in Program [in which patients are called to be sure they have no unmet needs before the weekend] are excellent ways to give volunteers different ways to serve patients."
The secrets to successful volunteer programs, however, go beyond development of specific responsibilities, Schneider suggests.
Volunteers want to feel as if they are a part of something bigger, says Schneider. Create the sense of community by holding monthly meetings or volunteer-specific events, such as recognition programs, he recommends. These activities give volunteers an opportunity to meet other volunteers and to meet hospice staff members, Schneider points out.
"Our Tuck-in volunteers call themselves the 'Thursday morning girls,' and they either meet for breakfast before coming in to the office to make calls or they go out to lunch after making calls," says Sandra Huster, director of volunteer services for Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, FL.
Finding ways to develop relationships with other volunteers not only makes volunteering more fun, but it also increases the volunteers' commitment to the hospice, she adds.
Schneider says, "Too many times hospices will recruit volunteers and not really pay attention to the specific skills and experience they bring to the organization. A class offered for volunteers at the hospice at which I volunteered focused on communicating with children." The class was needed because many volunteers had not worked with pediatric hospice patients, but Schneider was listening to the instructor, a young, recently graduated medical student, while sitting next to a volunteer who was a well-known and respected professor of speech pathology with an expertise in communicating with children. "The volunteer next to me should have been teaching the class," he points out.
Asking volunteers to share their knowledge for educational sessions or specific projects not only helps the hospice with expert consultation for free, but also serves as a visible acknowledgement of the volunteer's importance to the organization, says Schneider.
When setting up the pilot project for the hospice Tuck-in Program, Huster asked a former nursing administrator to head up the project. "I knew that she would understand what we were trying to accomplish and that she could provide the extra clinical perspective we needed to develop the program," she explains.
Long-time volunteers can mentor
Volunteers stay active in an organization if they are handling responsibilities that are important to the organization and that make them feel as if they are contributing, says Schneider. The trick to retaining volunteers is to make sure you recognize the length of service they've provided by offering increasing responsibilities, he suggests.
"Develop a mentoring program that pairs long-time volunteers with new volunteers," Schneider recommends.
Mentors can provide one-on-one training as well as ongoing support as new volunteers become accustomed to handling their responsibilities, he says. A mentor can also make sure new volunteers know about upcoming meetings, other volunteer opportunities, and additional training sessions, Schneider adds. Not only does a mentoring program improve retention of long-time volunteers, but it also helps retain newer volunteers because they get the support they need to feel comfortable, he says.
Educate clinical staff
"Volunteers come in to the office, or go to see patients at different times than clinical staff, so the two groups don't have many opportunities to interact," points out Schneider. "This means that clinicians don't always understand exactly what volunteers do."
In addition to creating opportunities for clinicians and staff members to meet, such as quarterly joint meetings, or special events, use training sessions as a way to educate clinicians, suggests Schneider. "One hospice at which I volunteered required all clinicians to attend one module of volunteer training so they would know a little about volunteer activities," he says.
For more information about hospice volunteer programs, contact:
Marie Ansley, Founder, Flower Angels. Telephone: (229) 377-9547.
Sandra Huster, Director, Volunteer Services, Covenant Hospice, 5041 N. 12th Ave., Pensacola, FL 32504. Telephone: (850) 202-1169. E-mail: Sandra.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Schneider, Founding Director, Hospice Volunteer Association, P.O. Box 882, Occidental, CA 95465-9339. Telephone: (866) 489-4325 or (707)874-1500. E-mail: email@example.com.